New Friends and Secret Keepers: They Make NBA Families Feel Welcome

Desireé LeSassier’s phone wouldn’t stop ringing. She landed in Minneapolis about an hour ago, on a Los Angeles Lakers plane, and everyone needed stuff.

She apologized for returning texts and emails. One player called to ask if she could give him some time on the field so he could shoot the night before the game.

“Literally…” LeSassier said, before continuing to reply to another text. “It certainly doesn’t stop.”

LeSassier, the Lakers’ player services manager, helps players with whatever they need, off-court and non-medical. Unless she spends her time in court for them. And when she reminds them of an appointment time to test for coronavirus.

She arranged tickets for the players’ guests at home and on the road. She helps them get used to Los Angeles. In addition, she –

Her phone rings again and she answers it without waiting for a hello.

“Hey, you’re confirmed,” LeSassier said. “I told them 7:30, but they are ready for you. I’ll see what time I end up here. ”

She stopped.

“Why, you want me to restore you or something?” she laughed. “Okay, I’ll think about it.”

Credit…Los Angeles Lakers

LeSassier and her colleagues around the NBA don’t have titles or equal backgrounds, but they have a knack for making players and their loved ones feel cared for and special. As players and their families roam around different cities where they may not know anyone, people like LeSassier become vital to their well-being and mental health. They help players focus on the basketball without worrying too much about dealing with everything else. They can become part of a team’s competitive advantage.

“If you talk to people on different teams, they can always tell you who it is,” said Ayana Lawson, vice president of community service and lifestyle for the Oklahoma City Thunder. “There’s a real feeling of: ‘Oh my god, this person took care of me. This person took care of me. ‘ ‘Hey, can I call them when I’m stuck?’ And trouble can just mean: ‘Hey, I’m having a bad day. Can I talk to you?’ Or, ‘Hey, I’m having Thanksgiving alone.’ “

Before teams started hiring people to do the job, there were people who filled the unwritten need.

One was Kathy Jordan, who worked for the Indiana Pacers for 25 years starting in 1983. Jordan, whom Lawson calls “the godmother of player development,” was married to a late man. both played in the NBA. She knows how difficult it can be for families. to adapt to life in the league. When a player and his wife moved to Indianapolis from New York, she offered to help navigate the new city, even though it wasn’t part of her job as a promotion assistant. office. She doesn’t tell her boss what she’s doing.

“Officers, we shouldn’t be in groups – especially women,” Jordan said.

She has helped players and their families find homes, schools for their children, doctors and hairstylists.

“As African-Americans in Indianapolis, we weren’t the most diverse city at the time,” says Jordan. “There are only a few places for African American hair.”

The Pacers eventually got her to work with more formal players. Then, in the late 1980s, then-NBA Commissioner David Stern called on her to provide more information about her efforts. Most teams now have someone like Jordan, and many have departments with multiple staff dedicated to helping players and their families adapt.

In Philadelphia, there’s Allen Lumpkin, senior director of logistics and team relations for the 76ers. He started working for the 76ers in 1977 as a teenager playing football, a position now known as team waiter.

One day while Lumpkin was working on the opposing bench, a Washington Bullets player named Rick Mahorn sat down next to him and said he was going to foul Julius Erving as much as he could. Years later, when Mahorn was traded to the 76ers, he asked where Lumpkin, a familiar face, lived.

Once upon a time, Lumpkin used to hang out on the town with Mahorn, Charles Barkley, and Manute Bol. “We did everything together,” he said. He remains close to the current and former Sixers and their families. Markelle Fultz FaceTimed him recently. Allen Iverson called him often. Mahorn and his wife are godparents of one of Lumpkin’s children.

“You are entrusting your loved ones to a team,” says Lumpkin, 60. “They want to make sure that, like any parent, their child is cared for. If the players have families with young children, they want to make sure they are taken care of. “

Lumpkin began officially leading player development for the 76ers in 2000, around the time the NBA started prioritizing it.

Now, the league office has 13 staff members dedicated to helping players with out-of-court interests. Leah Wilcox, the league’s player family liaison, is known for her work with families. That group provides resources for players’ financial literacy, education, and social justice initiatives.

Together with team members, they form a network that shares information as players change teams. When Kentavious Caldwell-Pope signed with the Lakers, his wife, Mackenzie Caldwell-Pope, and LeSassier became close.

“She has a friend who knows LA and works for the team,” says Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. “It is very useful.”

In Dallas, Kristy Laue became so part of the Mavericks structure in her evolving role that when she was pregnant with twins, then-coach Rick Carlisle announced it during practice.

That season the Mavericks won the NBA championship. In the knockout stages, when the players ran out onto the field before the match, some would stop to shake hands high towards her stomach.

“I feel like a lot of them are family,” Laue said.

Sashia Jones, vice president of player development and social engagement at Monumental Sports Group, which owns the Washington Wizards, officially began working with families this year. She’s been providing that support to players for 18 years.

Otto Porter Jr, who spent five and a half seasons with the Wizards, said: “She was a great person, a wonderful human being.

Jones helped Porter organize Thanksgiving breakfasts for the homeless. When his uncle wanted to bring a high school basketball team from Australia to a game, Jones arranged their visit.

Her relationship with the players doesn’t mean always saying yes. It could mean telling the player things they don’t want to hear – so she can’t get involved in certain personal matters.

“Sometimes you have to get away from it,” she said.

Lawson, with the Thunder, has become more comfortable with making unwelcome news over the years and players, like Serge Ibaka, respect her for it.

Ibaka was 19 years old when he joined the Thunder and has never lived in the US.

Ibaka, who is from the Republic of Congo and naturalized in Spain, says: “She treated me as if I were her little brother. “She was sure I was right, even learning my English. I remember we used to argue because she used to force me to learn English early on a game day. I used to say, ‘We have the game!’ She said, “No, you have to do it.”

Thirteen years later, he still calls her his sister.

Players trust that she won’t reveal their secrets, and Thunder General Manager Sam Presti trusts her to help even if she can’t say exactly what.

“It’s hard going to your GM and say, ‘Hey, I really need an unlimited budget for this project that I can’t really tell you about,’” Lawson said.

One of her proudest moments was when she helped Deonte Burton buy a home. A two-way player for the Thunder, she said, who didn’t have much money, he was the first of his siblings to be able to own a house.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way teams approach player services. It means less face-to-face interaction. The Toronto Raptors faced the additional challenge of international travel restrictions, so they spent the 2020-21 season in Tampa, Fla.

“We basically started from scratch and built a network in Tampa,” said Teresa Resch, executive vice president of basketball for the Raptors who oversees the Raptors’ player services staff.

The Raptors also spent the end of the 2019-20 season in Florida, as the NBA wrapped up the season at a restricted-access location at Walt Disney World near Orlando because of the pandemic.

For the Lakers’ large family team in Florida that year, LeSassier hosted an outdoor movie night, a karaoke night, and a pizza party. The adults tasted the wine. They made tie-dyed shirts with the kids. Blair Bashen Green, then the fiancée of bodyguard Danny Green, was part of the group.

“Obviously we were stuck there and couldn’t go anywhere,” said Bashen Green, who married Green in 2021 and invited LeSassier to the wedding. “She just created the whole bubble experience – it was almost like a vacation for us.”

Poolside yoga classes also help LeSassier relax mentally.

“As you can see, my phone keeps turning off,” LeSassier said. “So that yoga moment — I was there with my family, but it was also a time when I just spent an hour to myself.”

Bashen Green remembers attending her first Laker game after Green signed with the team in 2019. She felt like a student at a new school, unsure if anyone was in the room. For family the player will talk to her no.

“You always have a little bit of anxiety,” says Bashen Green. “Will everyone be fine? Do they introduce themselves? Do you introduce yourself? ”

LeSassier, as usual, was there to help. New Friends and Secret Keepers: They Make NBA Families Feel Welcome

Fry Electronics Team

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